The Situation Today

New Zealand teenagers and young adults take it for granted that abortion is easily available as a solution to an unplanned pregnancy. Here is a common scenario: a young woman in her 20s misses her period. She takes a test and sees her doctor, who confirms she is pregnant and then asks: "Do you want this pregnancy?"

"No, not really."

"Are you sure? Alright, I'll write you out a referral for a termination of pregnancy."

The doctor explains the procedure: the referral note will indicate that the patient does not wish to continue with the pregnancy on the grounds that to do so would seriously endanger her mental health.

Two certifying consultants (the law requires that one be a qualified obstetrician and gynaecologist) examine the form and the doctor's notes. They are not required to see the patient - and sign their approval that the abortion can proceed.

The doctor then advises the woman that approval has been given, where the termination of pregnancy will take place and the requirement for counselling.

The counsellor usually works in the hospital or clinic licensed to carry out abortions. She ascertains that the woman still wants the abortion, and explains the procedures using neutral language such as: "termination, contents of the uterus". Post-abortive women have revealed the abortion was described as "removing the tissue".

The actual abortion can be straight after, or several days or weeks later, depending on the stage of gestation - an ultrasound scan provides a window into the womb and enables the operating surgeon to accurately ascertain the baby's development.

The law requires that every abortion be performed on a licensed premises and be recorded. In 2003, there were 18,410 abortions - and 56,130 live births. Many women were having their second or third abortion.

Officially, legal abortion is seen as a "core health service", required to be provided by District Health Boards in designated licensed premises.